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Brewer fears for NZ craft beer industry

“This could be the death of craft beer here. I mean, if you’re broke, are you really going to want, or be able, to pay for a premium product like ours?”

Epic Beer owner Luke Nicholas is fearing the worst but hoping for the best as New Zealand grapples with significantly tougher COVID-19 lockdown rules than their Australian counterparts.

Kiwi brewers have seen all but online and supermarket sales dry up for the past four weeks as the nation chose to fight the COVID-19 crisis with a total lockdown of all non-essential services. It meant all hospitality venues were closed and overseas deliveries canned.

New Zealand will exit the severe level 4 lockdown on Monday. But the level 3 phase they will head into won’t be the lifeline many in the beer industry are desperately seeking. Level 3 will see the likes of breweries and pubs restricted to online sales and contactless takeaway transactions only.

“We’re remaining positive on one hand but we are worried where all this is heading,” Nicholas said.

“I’ve found myself saying ‘now is the perfect time to drink your worries away’ but I’m starting to think we all need to be as clear-headed as we can to know how to fight this on a business level.

“It’s hard to see New Zealand opening its borders for a very long time. It is going to have a significant impact on the nation’s wallets. This could be the death of craft beer here. I mean, if you’re broke, are you really going to want, or be able, to pay for a premium product like ours?”

Nicholas called on the New Zealand Government to do more for businesses like Epic Beer, so they can get stock, some of it wasting away in kegs in storerooms, out to consumers and keep their staff employed.

“People still want to drink beer but selling online through our website is not going to generate the income to save jobs. We need the channels to open up,” Nicholas said.

“We need the government to alter licensing restrictions, and even go as far as assisting with our ongoing costs like rent and insurance.”

Nicholas said his company was somewhat ahead of the curve compared to other New Zealand businesses, as they were doing significant trade into China. Throughout January they were filling multiple export orders in the lead up to Chinese New Year celebrations.

“But then the brakes went on very fast and we could see where this was heading,” he said.

“In the following weeks we looked at what problems we might face in the future. Our aluminum, laminate for our labels, all come from China. So we put in big orders to cover the next six months. But then bang, we’re all put into lockdown for the next four weeks and there’s nothing you can do.”

Come the reduction to level 3 restrictions on Monday, Nicholas said they were planning on re-opening their Auckland taproom and would sell the likes of growlers takeaway and online.

When asked whether Epic Beer might adopt measures the Australian beer industry had implemented to combat the downturn in business since COVID-19 hit, Nicholas replied: “Not yet mate. It’s been a fulltime gig just knowing where we’re going right now. But I will.”

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